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Discovering Yoga

0 Comments 🕔28.Feb 2017

Discovering Yoga

It was only a matter of time before overworked, overstressed, and overextended Westerners discovered the power of yoga. As we endured the running craze of the 70s, sweated through the aerobic classes of the 80s, many have embraced yoga during the 90s. If the thought of twisting your body into a pretzel shape is what’s holding you back, don’t despair. You set your own goals and develop at your own pace. Sound intriguing? Yoga can increase your concentration and flexibility, offer a deeper sense of well being and improve posture. It relieves a variety of medical conditions, and is perfect to stretch, tone and increase muscle endurance.

What is it?
Yoga, from the Sanskrit word meaning union, is a 5,000- year-old Eastern philosophy, which incorporates the mind and body in a mutually supportive relationship. Westerners are most familiar with its fitness components but may not realize yoga weaves fitness, wellness and a deep sense of consciousness-raising.

Enthusiasts practice various yoga traditions, all of which combine forms of breathing, posture and exercise. The physical exercises are called asanas (postures). These are isometric moves, which stretch and tone muscles. Similar to weight lifting, yoga strengthens muscles by incorporating resistant weight-bearing exercise using the body’s own weight as the resistance. While all yoga traditions employ variations of the asanas, each type offers different fitness benefits and wellness goals.

Different types of yoga
Hatha yoga is the most common type of yoga adapted by the Western world. Hatha concerns itself primarily with physical purification and training. It includes posture and breathing exercises. Hatha’s goal is to bring the physical body into a perfect state of health.

Iyengar yoga is another tradition, focusing on the body’s alignment and obtaining the correct posture positions. Marjan Wazeka of Florence Oregon has practiced the Iyengar tradition for twelve years. She feels the benefits are certainly physical. As a runner she uses yoga to balance the kind of work her body does while running. “No doubt the breathing exercises help to keep my blood pressure low, since they promote relaxation. My strength, coordination, balance and flexibility are all helped immensely by consistent yoga practice,” she says.

Wazeka, who attends a weekly class along with her daily practice at home, feels yoga is as spiritual as it is physical. She uses Hatha as a preliminary to her daily meditation practice, and thinks it is a superb way to learn to concentrate or focus.

Some consider Kundalini the most relaxing form of yoga, as it concentrates on meditation and breathing. It is extremely conducive to stress and tension relief.

Ashtanga, commonly titled power yoga by Americans, is a more physically demanding yoga. Others consider it to be a cardiovascular workout, as it involves quickly jumping from one posture to the next.

Power yoga has become extremely popular — celebrities such as Madonna are enthusiasts and many health clubs tout it, as the only workout needed to maintain health and weight.

However, Carol Dickman, a yoga teacher for nine years, cautions new yoga practitioners from viewing yoga as a fat-burning exercise. Dickman has taught at NBC Corporate Headquarters, Princess Cruise Lines, and currently teaches in the cardiac rehabilitation unit at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If yoga is undertaken as a way of losing weight–it’s not yoga that’s being practiced, ” says Dickman. “I believe it’s best not to set weight loss as a goal,” she advises.

The Benefits
Betsy Laincz of Perkasie Pennsylvania has practiced yoga for over twenty years. She currently takes classes at her local community college. She feels the best benefits of yoga are integrating the physical with the spiritual. “It’s the ability to be aware of your body at a different level of being,” she says.

Laincz believes yoga in totality creates a lifestyle change, which includes dietary revisions. She incorporates a whole, clean foods diet, which consists of whole grains, vegetables, including sea weeds, beans, seeds and nuts, and avoids meat, dairy, eggs, refined sugar, white flour and processed foods. “You will not only lose weight, you’ll feel great,” says Laincz.

“I believe one’s diet shifts naturally — comes into balance with the practice of yoga,” says Dickman. “Do your yoga, act and eat with consciousness and awareness.” Feel when you are hungry; not eating out of habit, boredom or during social situations, she recommends.

Healing Powers
Studies suggest that the stretching postures of yoga can reduce stress, prevent injuries, speed up injury recovery and enhance athletic performance. Backache, neck pain and even menstrual cramps have been relieved with yoga. Asthmatics may benefit by several torso stretches, as stretching the chest and abdominal area lead to opening the lungs and diaphragm, which tend to be tight in asthmatic patients.

Kathy Bell of Vancouver, British Columbia thinks yoga helped to promote healing after a car accident resulted in damage to her neck and shoulders. “It builds strength without stress on the joints, and increases flexibility,” says Bell. Dickman observes this often in her work at Mt. Sinai and says, “I believe yoga helps people regain a feeling of control over their well being at times when they may feel helpless.”

A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that yoga might help relieve pain associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Researchers studied patients who practiced Iyengar yoga twice a week, and patients who used a wrist splint or nothing at all. 42% of the yoga practitioners reported less joint pain, as opposed to the other group who reported 17% less pain. “Yoga improves a person’s awareness of proper posture and his use of upper body muscles which can lead to a reduction in CTS symptoms,” says Marian S Garinkel, Ed.D, the study’s lead author.

Yoga has an array of benefits both physical and spiritual. From increased flexibility and endurance to strength training and muscle toning, yoga can prevent injuries, aid in injury recovery, relieve medical problems and enhance spirituality.

How to Start
“So many schools of yoga are available today, I suggest a beginner try many different types of yoga and several different teachers, before deciding which path to follow,” says Dickman, who is certified in several traditions, and has developed a web site at http://www.stretch.com.

Call a yoga center in your area (check the yellow pages under yoga instruction). Costs vary widely, but expect to pay $8 to $15 for an hour-long session. Classes are fun, and offer the added benefit of a certified instructor on hand to correct any mistakes and ensure your safety. There are also videotapes and books available in many different traditions of yoga.

Dickman finds yoga refreshes her physically, mentally and spiritually. “Yoga helps me get in touch with a feeling of peace and well being within myself and the world,” she says. No wonder the 90’s have embraced yoga as a naturally relaxing method of inner health and outer beauty.


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